During 2013, medical researchers from around the world continued to search for improved asbestosis treatments in their pursuit of the ultimate goal to find a cure for malignant pleural mesothelioma cancer, and finally bring relief to the 2,000 people diagnosed with mesothelioma in the UK every year.

Advances in both medical knowledge, study techniques and laboratory technology have enabled “new” mesothelioma treatments to be developed alongside a “traditional” approach to researching the fatal disease. Research methods have investigated different combinations of drug and radiation treatments, genetic biomarkers, surgical procedures and less-invasive medications.

It is because there is an unusually long gestation period of up to 50 years from an initial asbestos exposure and the breathing in the fibre dust particles to the first appearance of asbestosis symptoms that a confirmed diagnosis occurs at a late stage in the spread of the cancer.

However, at present it is still a combination of surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, which seems to be the only consistent method capable of extending a patient’s survival rate beyond an expected prognosis of 4 to 12 months. However, as knowledge and technology has improved, so too the techniques employed and researchers are confident that the results of their work are making a positive improvement to treatment, recovery and patient wellbeing.

Life expectancy improvement

Latest research conducted in both Italy and Australia has found, for example, that high dose radiation therapy can help make a modest improvement to the life expectancy of otherwise healthy patients undergoing partial surgery, which can often be the case when the condition is caught at an early stage.

According to research at a Department of Radiation Oncology in northern Italy, the survival rate was 70 per cent at two years and nearly 50 per cent at three years or more, results considered among the best ever observed in mesothelioma patients.

A follow up Australian study conducted between 1982 and 2012 involved 1,300 mesothelioma patients divided into three groups – those who underwent intensive or partial procedures and patients who only received chemotherapy or palliative care. Life expectancy improved from just under 19 months following an intensive procedure to more than 20 months for partial surgery, compared to under 12 months for the chemotherapy treatment only.

Earliest possible stage

While differences were only slight, the ability to catch the spread of the disease at the earliest stage possible in otherwise healthy individual is also considered a significant factor in extending life expectancy. Today, there are available a number of body scanning technologies available, starting with X-rays, MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), CT (computed tomography) or CAT scans to the more advanced PET/CT (positron emission tomography and computerised tomography).

Many workers who were regularly exposed to asbestos were not made aware of the health risks during Britain’s peak commercial usage from the 1940s to the 1980s, and would simply have forgotten about working with asbestos and continued to lead active and healthy lives in their retirement years.

Invariably, an initial symptom is revealed by simply having a dry cough in the morning, which can often be ignored especially if there has been a history of cigarette smoking. The next stage in possible asbestos-related symptoms is the beginnings of breathlessness, which may only be noticeable after exercise.

Whenever symptoms persist, seeking asbestos advice from medical and legal specialists at the earliest opportunity is strongly recommended.